Blue Ridge Mountain Adventure Race
So how was the actual race? The first word that comes to mind is “FUN!” Yes, I realize this sounds a bit odd: 36 miles, lots of physical exertion, and FUN all in the same sentence? But, the race really was a blast. The reason? The race set-up requires you to think critically and problem solve during the race rather than focusing solely on pushing yourself. Granted, this is important, too, but it’s much different than a race like a marathon in which the course is known ahead of time and all you do is run and focus on maintaining the pace whereas in an adventure race you are constantly thinking about where you’re going and changing disciplines. There’s something about bushwhacking through the forest during a run that makes it much more fun than running along a road with mile markers.
The night before the race it began pouring at about 1:30 in the morning. None of us were asleep – we were all thinking about the upcoming race. It poured until about 7:00 a.m. and then it stopped raining and we began the race in a slight fog. The initial section was a running leg. We found out, thanks to the expertise Marcus had gained in another adventure race a few weeks earlier, that you don’t necessarily run the whole “running” section. Because the race is lengthy, you often walk quickly up steep sections and run on level and downhill sections. We did well on the run – half way through we were in 22nd place out of 90 teams, which was pleasantly surprising to us. We passed a good number of teams in the remaining portion of the run and were feeling great when we arrived at the canoe leg.
This leg was definitely more of a challenge for us for a variety of reasons. First, there was a ½ mile portage (carrying the 75-80 lb. canoe over your head) to the water. Some teams had portage wheels and breezed by us as Marcus and Brian trudged down the hill to the river with the canoe over their heads. In addition to the canoe, we had too much gear (that’s inexperience for you), which we also had to carry. Possessing the wimpiest arms on the team, I got to carry the paddles – didn’t I luck out? The canoe was so heavy Marcus and Brian decided they shouldn’t set it down or stop or they might not be able to hoist it back up in the air. So they carried it for the entire 20 minute walk to the water. I also had the job of leading Marcus, who was in the front. This proved challenging. Even if I walked directly in front of him he couldn’t see me. In fact, he almost walked off the steep edge of the road at one point. Ultimately, I ended up leading him and slowly but surely we made it to the water.
The other challenge of the canoe leg was our lack of experience. The rapids near the put in seemed a bit daunting, especially after watching other teams capsize while we were planning our route. Once we started, we made it through the first set of rapids, but tipped on a shallow rock in another group of rapids. However, it wasn’t a bad spill and we did well the remainder of the canoe segment. There was one check point along the river and fortunately there were already other teams stopped at the flag. If this hadn’t been the case, it would have been extremely tricky to find as the flag was not visible from the river, there was no sand bank at the edge where you pulled over for the flag, and the topography was rather nondescript in the area. Fortunately, we didn’t have to waste time looking for it since others were already pulled over.
As we exited the river, we changed clothes and moved on to the first portion of the biking section, which was on paved and forest roads. After a few miles, we hopped off our bikes and started running again. The run led us to the first set of “mystery challenges.” These were easier than I thought they would be, but they were still fun and challenging. The first challenge involved getting all of our team members over an 18’ wall with a rope hanging over the front. The team decided I should go first. I made it to the very top and once I got my arms over could not quite get the rest of the way over the wall. Brian and Marcus saved the day: Brian climbed part way up the rope and I was able to put my feet on his shoulders, which gave me just the push I needed to get over. The rest of our team had no problems getting up and over. Then we moved on to the Toccoa River. Wading across as a team was fairly tough. The water was deep and swift and the rocks under the surface were slimy and slippery. We still made it across quickly, though, and easily retrieved the card hanging on a board on the opposite side. Then we waded back across to a rope bridge leading up from the water to a bridge. We held the rope ladder while Marcus climbed it and then Brian and I waded back the rest of the way across the river. With squishy shoes, we slowly ran the rest of the way back to our bikes and changed into dry biking shoes. I had definitely begun to notice my legs getting tired at this point.
After about 5 minutes of biking through very mucky mud puddles, we arrived at a lake crossing. Problem solving 101: How do you cross a 100m section of the lake that’s 16 feet deep with a bike? Inner tubes were given to us and we put our bikes on top and swam across the chilly lake. It was harder than I thought it would be to swim in my biking clothes and shoes, push my bike on an inner tube through the lake, drag myself along using the rope that was tied to both sides of the lake. The rope sounded and looked like it should be very helpful until you actually tried to use it. The pool noodles strung on the rope to keep it afloat slipped when you grabbed them. So we ended up grabbing at the noodle, sliding it out of the way, and then pulling ourselves along the rope. The only items that remained dry were our camelbacks and our bikes. Once we got back on our bikes, we were on them for the rest of the race.
Although we were certainly tired during the biking section, I thought the bike course could have been a lot harder than it was. After the bike swim, we climbed up a tough hill on a forest service road and then got onto some single track. This lasted for a few miles and had some big ups and downs that dumped us out onto some very steep, difficult to navigate roads surrounding Lake Blue Ridge. We finished the course on gravel and paved roads. Even though we weren’t on trails, the hills were still very steep and challenging at the end of a long day. Once we arrived at the bike drop off, we ran down the hill to the city park. Along the way, we were doused with a hose attached to a fire hydrant. Once we arrived we completed our last mystery challenge, the best part of which was slipping down a soapy slide.
We finished the race in 7 hours and 42 minutes with no penalties and with all three team members tired, happy, and hungry. Surprisingly, we finished 12th place out of 90 teams. This was a lot higher than we thought we’d finish, especially considering the amount of time we took on transitions. There were 4-6 teams within 30 minutes of us that might have been within reach had we not wasted so much time getting ready to go, swapping gear, putting on dry clothes, and deciding where to put the canoe in the water. GO TEAM SUKA!!
-- Molly & Brian Lawrence